Will you live long enough to become one of the growing numbers of vital, healthy centenarians? Your lifestyle may make the difference between aging gracefully to 109 or stopping at 79, the current average life expectancy.
Obviously, the length of your life is partly a function of genetics and good fortune, neither of which you can control. The life span of your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents provides clues about your genetic makeup. Another relevant factor is whether any chronic diseases, such as stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer or diabetes, occurred in family members before age 50.
Even so, experts assert that simple decisions you make each day have an enormous impact on how long and how well you will live. Based on the longevity test developed by Drs. Robert Goldman and Ronald Klatz, co-founders of the American Academy of Anti-Aging, the Fitness Protection Program considers six lifestyle factors. If you want to age gracefully and healthfully, you need to incorporate these elements into your daily routine:
1. Outlook. Optimists fare better than pessimists do when it comes to longevity. An ability to see humor in the course of life’s difficulties helps. Having a purpose and making meaningful contributions promote a sense of well-being that translates into a longer life. Being connected with others, even a pet, nourishes our spirit. A regular routine, along with vacations and stress management, promotes health.
2. Diet. Eating a variety of foods in modest amounts promotes longevity. Maintaining a reasonable body weight with a body mass index of 18 to 25 is also key to living longer. Including five or more servings of fruits and vegetables from a rainbow of colors along with high-fiber foods each day is important. Consuming meals consisting of wholesome, fresh food rather than packaged, precooked or fried foods aids longevity.
3. Physical Fitness. Moving our bodies doesn’t wear them out; instead, it preserves our ability to function. Maintaining physical fitness requires a range of exercises, including aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility. Sixty minutes a day of vigorous walking or an equivalent form of exercise is a good foundation. Lifting weights builds bone strength, while yoga and stretching improve balance and flexibility.
4. Mental Fitness. Learning new skills and challenging ourselves with puzzles and word games preserve memory, and mental acuity is associated with living longer. Daydreaming and recalling wonderful moments in our lives keep us sharp. Experiencing life on a moment-to-moment basis rather than multitasking unclutters the mind. Setting goals, keeping a journal, volunteering and engaging in a hobby also promote mental fitness.
5. Preventive Care. Access to medical care, including a hospital in case of acute trauma, improves our chances of a longer life. Obtaining comprehensive physical exams and blood tests, including a sigmoidoscopy every three years after the age of 50, is important. Women need annual mammograms after the age of 50, and they need to perform monthly self-exams. Men need a rectal or prostate exam yearly after the age of 30.
6. Environment. Living in a high-crime area reduces the odds of achieving longevity, as does smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke. The chances of developing skin cancer, which can shorten longevity, can be reduced by wearing sunscreen and avoiding excess sun exposure. Wearing a seat belt and refraining from talking on a cell phone or driving under the influence of alcohol improve our chances of avoiding injury in a car accident.
If the sheer number of these factors for improving your life span seems daunting, here’s a simple solution.
According to HEALTHbeat, an e-newsletter published by Harvard Health Publications, four small lifestyle changes added an average of 14 years to the lives of the people studied, even among individuals who were overweight. The healthy behaviors are eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, drinking alcohol moderately, refraining from smoking and exercising daily.
To calculate the cost of your daily choices, go to www.hbhealthonline.com/longevity-test.html or enter longevity tests in the Google search engine. You’ll find tips on how to add vital, productive years to your life. Armed with information, you can join the Fitness Protection Program.